The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells

The Bones Of You by Debbie Howells begins with the murder of a teenage girl, Rosie Anderson. Kate, a neighbour, befriends her grieving mother Joanna and becomes obsessed with finding out the truth about Rosie's death. The story is told partly from the point of view of Kate, but partly also from the perspective of the deceased Rosie, who pieces together the Anderson family's troubled history as her ghostly presence drifts between present and past.

You may be thinking that this sounds an awful lot like Alice Sebold's bestseller The Lovely Bones. And yes, the basic premise is very much like that. Unfortunately, The Bones Of You is simply not as well-constructed and sensitively written as The Lovely Bones, although it's a reasonably diverting psychological thriller. It's not groundbreaking stuff, and I strongly suspect that I'll have completely forgotten about it in a few months' time, but equally I was keen to keep turning the pages even when I was rolling my eyes at various plot developments.

Although I found The Bones Of You reasonably entertaining, I have some pretty significant criticisms of it, most notably that I felt, from about the halfway point, that it was pretty obvious who murdered Rosie. Certain characters are flagged up so obviously as being the prime suspects from the beginning that we know they absolutely won't be guilty of the murder, and I think most readers would be able to see the 'twist' coming from a mile away. I still wanted to keep reading to find out more about the killer's motive and background, but a few more surprises would have been nice.

Moreover, there are many moments that simply don't ring true. Kate, for example, is a terrible judge of character: she fails to notice that Joanna is painfully thin and never eats anything at at any of their lunch dates, and continues to think that Rosie's father Neil must be perfectly charming even after his wife has turned up in tears on the doorstep as a result of his behaviour. 

Like a lot of the 'domestic noir' psychological thrillers that seem to be out there at the moment, the characters are almost universally smug, affluent and oh-so-middle-class. Please can someone start producing some thrillers in this genre in which the characters aren't all people who can afford to own horses and have children with names like Grace and Delphine, and where the men aren't all architects and broadcast journalists while the women do pleasant little 'hobby' jobs like schooling problem horses or garden design?

Where The Bones Of You does succeed is in its uncomfortably chilling, oppressive depiction of emotional (and at times physical) abuse: the portrait of a family keeping up appearances while constantly treading on eggshells is extremely effective - so much so that I found it genuinely disturbing at times. The story of Delphine, Rosie's surviving younger sister, almost edges into modern Gothic at times: a scared, silent girl alone and in peril in a huge house.

In summary, this book is ... well, OK. It has its effective moments, but it's nothing particularly memorable and offers nothing new. It's not terrible, but there are far better examples of the psychological thriller genre out there.


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